Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top Eleven Books of 2011!

Happy New Year’s Eve! As the final hours of 2011 tick by, I hope everyone has a great start to 2012. I have a slew of mental goals and resolutions, but above all I hope that 2012 is a better year than 2011 for me. Really and truly, I could pretty much write this year off. That’s not to say that everything has been horrible this year -- after all, there have been some highlights -- winning Teacher of the Year at my school, going to Tybee Island, my children continuing to grow into young adults, seeing my aunt and uncle from Australia again -- but losing my mother pretty much cast a pale on everything.

However, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to recapture my sense of optimism and fun -- I feel like I have let that slip away just not this year, but for several years. Of course, last night when I was being negative, Charles commented that he thought I was going to approach life more cheerfully. I had to tell him, “In 2012 -- I still have some time to be a pessimist this year.” :)

I am digressing, though. I thought it would be fun to wind up the year with a list of my top eleven books I read this past year that I have not previously mentioned on the blog. They are in no particular order except for my number one favorite of the year which goes onto my all-time favorite list.

Out of the 84 books I read this year, which ones make the list? As you will see, my list is not filled with “literary achievements.” Often, I find those books too dense and sometimes outright depressing. I read because I enjoy reading, and I read to escape the real world of emptying the dishwasher and mounds of laundry. I don’t necessarily want something that makes me want to gouge my eyes out. None of those types of books, please. So, you will see that I read a lot of what other people might call “fluff.” It’s fun fluff, though, makes me happy, and sometimes I learn a thing or two along the way.

Without further ado…

11. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Sarah Addison Allen writes a genre of fiction called “magic realism.” Magic realism, by definition, is a style in which magical elements are blended with the real world. In The Peach Keeper, Willa returns to her North Carolina hometown and strange occurrences begin when a skeleton is discovered underneath the old peach tree.

10. Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
I love Carol Goodman’s books, and this one was no exception. Arcadia Falls is about a mother and her teenage daughter who go to live at a small college in upstate New York where the mother begins teaching folklore and mythology classes. Part gothic and part ode to the power of fairy tales.

9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife is the fictional story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their years in Paris. Ernest Hemingway has always been one of my favorite writers -- along with a few others -- but this book was an eye-opener. I always thought of Hemingway the way he looked in his later years. You know the mental image I mean. Throughout the book, Hadley (it’s told in the first-person point of view) kept saying how good-looking Hemingway was. What??? No way! Well, I looked up some pictures. Hello, Ernest Hemingway! He was quite the looker before the drinking got to him. Changed my whole perception of him. Still don’t believe me? Google early pictures of Ernest Hemingway. Now. 


8. Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne
Hester Browne was an author my mother introduced me to -- British chick-lit with a beautiful vintage twist. Swept Off Her Feet is about Evie Nicholson, an antiques buyer, who can never pass up the odd antique. She is sent to Scottish castle to help the owners sell off some of their heirlooms. There were parts where I laughed out loud at Evie’s penchant for finding odd things, and there were Scottish reels and romance to sweeten the whole story. 


7. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
I am not one who normally reads non-fiction. I need a story with dialogue, so I tend to steer clear of anything that isn’t fiction. I made an exception for The Wilder Life, though, since I had loved the Little House books when I was little -- I can still remember being fascinated in a grossed-out kind of way that the girls made a ball out of a pig’s bladder and being in shock over the grasshoppers eating all the crops. Wendy McClure wrote about her obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder and how she tried to recapture her lifestyle (the churning butter story had me laughing) and visit all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesites (her purchases at the gift shops were equally amusing).  A true must-read for anybody who grew up loving The Little House on the Prairie books.

6. Summer in the South by Cathy Holton
I will admit that I started this book with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. Ava heads to Tennessee to spend the summer with the aunts of a college friend and in the process unearths quite the 1920’s/1930’s mystery. Rather surprisingly delightful.

5. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Here’s the description on the back of the book: “In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her ancestors and starts to write.” That’s all I am going to tell you. Truly one of my favorites of the year.

 4. The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
“A modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder -- set against the backdrop of Provence.” That’s the description on Amazon. Let me add that it all takes place in a cottage where the main character has moved with her boyfriend, Dom, of whom she knows very little.

 3. Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank
Being a Charleston girl, I eagerly devour all of Dorothea Benton Frank’s books since they are set in and around my hometown. They won’t change your view of the world, but they are fun for summer reading. This is probably my favorite book that she has written because she tied in DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s histories on Folly Beach, and how they eventually wrote Porgy and Bess with George Gershwin. Fascinating from a historical point of view.

 2. Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews
Another Southern author I adore is Mary Kay Andrews. Her books definitely make me smile more, and Summer Rental was another fun read. Set on the Outer Banks, it made me glad that we had rented a beach house for our summer vacation, otherwise I would have been pining away for some time with my feet in the sand.

And my number one favorite book of 2011...

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Did I hear you gasp in surprise that I had never read it before? I know. I know. To think I call myself a Southerner and a reader, and I had never before read To Kill a Mockingbird. How is that even possible???

 Somehow in my thirty-seven years, I had never read it. Well, one of my resolutions for 2011 was to read all the classic Southern authors that I had never really read before -- William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, etc. Didn’t get too far with that one, so I am putting it back on the list for this year. However, I did get around to reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was such a treat.

Treat? Seriously?

Yes, an absolute gem. Of course, I had seen the movie and knew the gut-wrenching story, and every time I read the name Atticus Finch, I envisioned Gregory Peck. However, nothing prepared me for the wry sense of understated humor Scout brought to the first half of the story. I laughed out loud so many times at her perceptions of life in her small town, and I was enamored, absolutely enamored, with her tale. Of course, things get dark -- really dark, but, in the end, I still loved the book and its theme of never really understanding another human being until “you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill a Mockingbird also gave me one of those oh-so-rare moments of sheer delight when I was gussing about it to a friend, and she said, “You know who Dill was in real life, don’t you?” I had to confess my ignorance, and when she told me it was Truman Capote, all the pieces of that puzzle fell together. “Oh my goodness! That explains so much!” was my response, but it didn’t come close to truly conveying my feelings of joy that here was a literary connection where I least expected it. I adore tidbits like those.

As 2012 leans ever closer, I wonder what books the year will bring to me and which resolutions and goals I will achieve. My top ones are:

1. Approach all of my life with a positive attitude.
2. Read more classic Southern authors. I think I will start with William Faulkner. With the exception of “A Rose for Emily” (one of my favorite short stories) and “Barn Burning” (a story I could have lived without reading), I have not done him credit. I think I will sweeten this goal with the prize of a trip to Rowan Oaks.
3. Refine my Southern cooking abilities. I recently bought a cookbook called Southern Cakes -- I think I will start there.

That’s as far as I have gotten -- will have to think some more…:)
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Aftermath of Christmas: Curling Up with a Good Book!

Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope everyone has been enjoying their time with family and friends.

Our Christmas passed with the usual whirlwind of activity, starting at 5:00 when our 14-year-old daughter burst into our bedroom to announce, “Mom, Santa came!!!” As if there was ever any doubt that we would be a stop on his route. J

One of my favorite Christmas traditions dates all the way back to my childhood. Every Christmas I have always received books of some sort, and I like nothing better than curling up with them after the craziness of the day is done. A spot on the couch, some Chex Mix, a mug of tea, a blanket, and a new book. Does Christmas vacation get any better than that?

So, which books ended up beneath the tree this year?

For me, quite a stack that should last me the rest of the week and perhaps a little beyond.
There is a biography of Walt Disney by Bob Thomas and a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. We watch Grimm every Friday night, and there have been several times that we have watched it and said, “Which fairy tale is that based on???” Now, we have a reference guide.

There is also A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff. I read that in about a day. Charming story of a woman who opens a vintage clothing store, and the friendship she forms with an elderly lady. It had me scouring eBay for a Kelly bag until I found out how much they really cost.

My current reading material is The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley. She is a fabulous author. Think Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier. I have read several of her other ones, and I love each one more than the last. The Rose Garden is set in Cornwall, and I have been seduced by her descriptions of the coastline and villages. Adding a visit to there to my bucket list.

And do you see that fabulous quilt under the books? My daughter MADE that for me for Christmas. I can’t begin to describe how much I love it. It matches the new colors in our living room, and I have already spent a lot of hours underneath it with my books. 

Connor also received some books for Christmas. He was beyond excited to get Inheritance -- the latest and I think, maybe, the last book in the Eragon series (fantasy and dragons) -- and The Death Cure -- the third book in The Maze Runner series (dystopian fiction).
Santa also included some book treats in the stockings. Chelsea and Connor got magnetic book marks. How cute are they??? Charles got a copy of Charlie Brown’s Christmas which I learned this year is his favorite Christmas special. I personally find it the most depressing of shows, but apparently some people like it. :)

Sometimes the best presents are the surprise ones (like my quilt). I consider this book to be just that -- a book recommendation from my dear friend, Leslie, that turned out to be absolutely gripping.

Soulless by Gail Carriger is the first in a series which already numbers four books, with a fifth one due out in February. How to describe it? Well, let’s just say it is set in the late 1800’s in London and involves romance, mystery, humor, vampires, and a really great werewolf.

I read it one day because I could not put it down, and we were without power for twelve hours due to storms the night before.

I can promise you Alexia and I will be spending more time together since I used a Barnes and Noble gift card from my mother-in-law to buy the other three.

So, there are our Christmas book goodies for 2011. Now, I must get back to my spot on the couch and The Rose Garden.

May you have a wonderful New Year! (I will be posting my Top Eleven Books of 2011 on New Year’s Day.)